Before Being Explicit…Try to Elicit!

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You know that saying about giving away fish vs. teaching fishing? Well, if we pull on what the students already know in order to guide them to the deeper meaning behind what we are teaching, it is possible to raise the student’s awareness of how to effectively learn (teaching fishing!). This is where elicitation comes in. Before explicit explanation it can be helpful to ask questions first to see if the students already know the information. If they do, you are putting that knowledge in context for the student which in turn can make it more accessible to that student in the future! In a nutshell, elicitation is pretty awesome. So how can you do it? Here are a few tips:

Tip 1: The most basic type of elicitation is to try to get the students to identify the new words and/or grammar you will be teaching BEFORE you tell them directly. So, if you are teaching vocabulary, rather than just writing the words on the board, use pictures, a story, examples, gestures, etc. to see if some of the student already know the words. For example, I am teaching some verb phrases about romance (to have a crush on someone, to break up with someone…). To help elicit the words, I allow the students to read a short story about a relationship. The words are not in the story. After they read the story I ask, ‘Does anyone know another way to say this? Does anyone know another verb that means the same thing as this sentence?’ This way I am giving the students the chance to use their background knowledge and apply it to a contextualized situation. You can use the same method for grammar structures as well.

Tip 2: Another basic type of elicitation is to ask questions to get the detailed information about what you are teaching (vocabulary definitions, grammar rules, reading/listening strategies)  instead of giving it. For example, if you are teaching the present perfect you can ask questions like’ ‘When can I use this grammar?’; ‘What kind of action is this?’; ‘What is the difference between this and the simple past?’  All of these questions are asked BEFORE you provide any detailed information. To make this elicitation easier for the students, give them a model (often a contextual story) to infer from (see tip1).

Tip 3: You can also try to elicit the answer to a student’s question before answering it. For example, if a student asks, ‘What does this mean?’ ask the whole class and the student,  ‘What do you think?’ Can you guess? Can anyone help?’

Tip 4: The next step in the process of elicitation is to ask guiding questions. If you are using tips 1-3, what do you do if the students can’t answer your elicitation questions? The solution is to ask guiding questions to help lead them to the answer. This is most helpful when you are using tip 2 to teach grammar. For example, if you are teaching the present perfect to talk about life experience and students can’t answer ‘When can I use this grammar?’ You can ask guiding questions like, ‘Do I often use this to ask questions to people I know very well? Why or why not?’; or ‘What are some common topics that we discuss with this grammar? What could the topic of the conversation be?’ In order to help guide them to the deeper information, it is really helpful to have a contextual situation (see tip 1) for the students to refer to. Then your guiding questions can refer to that specific context which facilitates the elicitation process. 

Image source: themickmorris.com

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